Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Past Speaks in Present Tense

Thursday, January 20, 7:05 AM.

I pull myself out of bed and reach for my cell phone, which is my alarm clock.  Fumble, and turn off the alarm.  I really, really don't want to get up.  Recently I added five minutes to 7AM; what's five more minutes I thought.  Slip on slippers, pull on a shirt and walk, slowly, to the laundry room.  I washed his colors last night, there are clean jeans and and a long-sleeve shirt in the dryer.  As I reach in a thought strikes me, I close the door and start a cycle.  I'll heat them up for him, the house is chilly.  It will only take a couple minutes, but to save time while it heats up I begin the lunch ritual.

I try to keep my reusable grocery bag with me for the odd shopping trip, but failing that, I save and re-use the plastic bags for Jake's lunch.  I take one from the pile on the dryer, and mentally check off the stops as I walk into the kitchen.  Fridge: take the baby carrots, a juice box, and the grape jelly.  Deposit them on the stove, where I will construct the finished product.  To the pantry: for the peanut butter, Pringles and a snack--a cupcake or an oatmeal cookie.  Back to the stove, all now in place.  I turn and wash my hands at the sink, dry off, and take a paper towel to the stove.  The towel is my clean workbench.

Construction order is always: easy first, hard last.  The juice and snack go straight into the bag, already packaged.  A short stack of Pringles goes into a sandwich baggie, then the baby carrots, also into their own little bag.  I vary the number of carrots between 4, 5 and 6, then ask him at the end of the day how many there were as proof that he ate them.  He usually gets it right.  Now I'm down to the sandwich, always PB&J.  Deep sigh.  No, first I'll do the clothes.

I wake him by tossing the shirt and pants on his blanket and say, like always, "Put these on and you can put your head back down for a while."  Not yet old enough to care much about his appearance--I won't let him leave looking shabby, so I orchestrate this.  Back to the kitchen for the toughest task, the PB&J.

So far my actions are mechanical; now I have to wake up completely.  The PB&J requires careful thought, more than the rest combined.  Spread the PB so as to get the corners; spread the jelly the same way, but thinly (he once complained I put it on too thick!--I didn't think that was possible).  Don't rip the soft bread, and cut it carefully to get it into the baggie cleanly, or else there'll be a mess when he takes it out. Yes, I could do all this the night before, but there is something lacking in an "old" PB&J from the fridge.

As I do this for my stepson, I think back to the same actions I took for my own children.  I wonder if they knew I took the same care when I made their sandwiches, many years ago.  Then as now, I felt love when I made their lunches, and wonder if they knew that.  I wonder if they thought "my dad made this" and "he must love me" as they tore into it.  Probably not; school lunch for me was all about where you sat, and with whom.  Not saying it didn't happen, but I can't recall ever being thanked for filling those little lunch boxes.  Did I ever thank my mom?  Are thanks called for for even the mundane, repetitive tasks?

It is at this point I remember something long forgotten, and completely out of the blue.  Grandma once told me I was severely pigeon-toed as a toddler; doctors said my legs would have to be surgically broken to fix this, but mom and dad didn't buy it.  They kept looking until they found one who said braces could gradually turn my feet outward.  I told my grandma I didn't recall any braces--she said they were so painful, and I fussed so much, that my parents waited until I slept each night to put them on, then took them off in the morning--and this went on for many months.  Suddenly one of my earliest memories came back, constantly being told to point my feet outward, not inward!  I remembered it was a big deal to everybody, but I didn't know why.

As I reflect on this at the stove, I know that love is shown through actions, especially the tough ones, even more especially, the little ones.  And I realize, I never thanked my parents for the patience, the determination, and the love that went into those braces.  Maybe they just thought of it as a burden of parenting, but I know what it really was.  "You'll understand when you have your own children."  That's all that need be said. 

On this day, Thursday the 20th of January, I understand.  Love is a chain of understanding that links the generations forwards and backwards.   My love for my parents and my children are both give and take; both reverent service and grateful thanks.  Part of a chain that, I am certain, will one day link my children with theirs, and with their mom and me.  The love with which a task is performed is its own thanks. Knowing this, and having what I have, I am such a lucky man.